Veteran Stories:
Gerald George Connick

Army

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"So I laid right in then and then he went out of sight at the back end too. And boy, there was an awful explosion and the old boat lurched straight ahead."

Transcript

I had to quit school and go to work when I was 13. And I went to the lumber camps and I left from there and joined the army. But at 19, they call you all up, during wartime. Once you hit 19, you got a letter to go to Fredericton, if you lived in this area. And yeah, you’re automatically conscripted, you’re in. Then you had no choice where you went. That’s another thing. By joining up, you had a bit of a choice, what unit you’re with. But if you were conscripted, you could be conscripted here, but end in a B.C. unit, way out on the coast. Nobody liked that. And vice versa, the same thing. They’d end up down here, that’s where they’d send them, back East Coast would go west.

I sailed to the Halifax on the Old Latisha, tube ship. And we were 15.5 days from Halifax to Greenock, Scotland, because sometimes we were sailing back, ducking the German wolf packs, the subs. But we made it alright over. We were right down on the bottom deck, on D deck. And I said, if we ever hit this baby, we’re gone. But anyway, they’d be dropping these depth charges. And they dropped them and the sides of the old boat would just rattle. Yeah. This is between Halifax and Scotland. And then we went from Liverpool [England] to Italy, through the Straits of Gibraltar, me and a fellow from Montreal, Bobby Lariviere, were peeling potatoes down in the galley, where they cooked the meals.

And they were looking for volunteers for the twin Bren guns on the deck, up on the bridge. There was two on each side. And Bobby said to me, “Let’s volunteer,” he said, “We can get a good tan in that nice Mediterranean sun.” We didn’t, we got tanned alright because the next morning, after we took over that job, they attacked us, German dive bombers. And they attacked us and at ten to eight in the morning, 8:00 is mealtime when you’re sailing at the tube ships. And you only get two meals, breakfast and supper, no dinner. You never get dinner. We didn’t have the chance to get our breakfast, so we had nothing to eat until 10:00 that night.

But I seen a destroyer hit over on our right hand side and they hit it right in the middle and she just buckled up like that and went down. There wasn’t a soul got off of that. And that way, I couldn’t experience in that racket. I froze on the Bren gun the first time. The German plane, I could see him coming in, the tail end, stern of the boat. And when they got in so close, he went out of sight. And I moved over and I swung the Bren around, I had a 90 degree turn on the, on the, where you were sitting, you can turn. And he come around the side of the boat. I got a whack at him when he come around. But about maybe ten or 15 minutes later, there was another one coming right in on the stern of the boat. So I laid right in then and then he went out of sight at the back end too. And boy, there was an awful explosion and the old boat lurched straight ahead. And we never found out until after what happened. But the, it was an American ship on the SS Erickson. And the American gunner on the big 16 [millimeter] gun on the stern of the boat, when he flew into his sight, he just pulled the cord. And he disintegrated, just disappeared. Yeah.

But then there was the hospital of 14th General Hospital, they sunk it. Our hospital ship, right. And they sunk it and there was an awful lot, there was nurses and all different people, on rafts and on floats. And the water in the Mediterranean was just as smooth as that, just like glass. Not a ripple. The sailors, they went down over the side in the rope ladders. And we stayed at the rail, as a rail party and they’d bring them up the ladders. And then we’d get a hold of them and haul them aboard. We weren’t too gentle getting them aboard either, getting fast as we could. Because we didn’t know the minute we were going to hit again. We picked up quite a bunch.

We went to Algiers, North Africa. We went to Algiers overnight and unloaded the survivors. I remember one thing there, the old English officers had come and he was talking to us and English was holding that my place then. And he said, “Whatever you do,” he said, “tie your boots on at night,” he said, “if you’re going to stay overnight. Because these, these Arabs,” he said, “they’ll steal them right off your feet.” (laughs) Yeah.

So we stayed overnight, we had no trouble. But when we went in there, we had the old [RMS] Queen Elizabeth into our convoy too. And she sailed right ahead. I see them four stacks on there, boys, the smoke curling right out of them. We were going to Naples [Italy]. And next day when we pulled out and we were coming into Naples harbour during the night. And we met her coming out. She was in and loaded all her load and was heading back. Yeah. And we pulled in there and the worst thing I seen there was the little kids, wading out in the water and the little minnows. Small little fish. And they were eating them right raw. Over hungry. They were eating them little minnows raw. The kids are. And they give us two boiled eggs and an apple when we got off. And I give my two apples, I had two apples and two eggs. And I gave them to the kids. Because we were going to get lunch later anyway. But I see them kids eating, nailing them apples and eating . It was things like that you’d never forget.

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